This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This week’s topic is “Tithing.”
And now it’s time for Heresy with Dave, the part of the blog where Dave comes out and spouts out heresy.
First of all — I’m not opposed to tithing. I’m really not. It’s a good thing.
OK, do we have that out of the way? Because the last thing I want is for you to read this entry and come away from it thinking I believe you shouldn’t tithe. If you want to, if you feel called to, please please please do. You have my support and respect. My problem isn’t with tithers.
Let’s do a quick word problem; a good elementary school math problem. I give you ten apples. I make you give one back. How many apples have I given you?
Sure, you could make the case that I gave you ten apples. When I gave you apples, I gave you ten of them. But an elementary school student solving that problem is going to count the number of apples left and come up with the answer that I gave you nine apples.
And I don’t think God is a 90 percent giver. “I have a blessing for you, that I want you to have 90 percent of!” “I want you to have life, and life 90 percent abundantly!” I believe God gives fully and unconditionally. And I have a problem with any preacher that gets up and says God gives to you generously, but wants a refund. I’ve heard it countless times, in almost those words. And it maligns His character.
And this, to me, is the issue — Preachers lie about tithing. And in doing so, they lie about God.
How many times has a preacher told you it’s important to tithe? How many times have preachers told you it’s not a New Testament concept? That latter part kinda gets left out, doesn’t it. They tend to be much bigger on the first part.
Tithing is an interesting thing in the church. I know far more people who believe it’s something you must do than people who actually do. It’s important that you do it, but it’s much more important that you think it’s important that you do it. But why is it important?
In the King James, the word “tithe” appears only three times in the gospels. (In NIV, it doesn’t appear in the New Testament at all.) Want to know what Jesus says about tithing? “Woe unto you!” Jesus mentions tithing only once, in a story that appears in Matthew 23 and Luke 11 in which He criticizes Pharisees for being hypocrites in their tithing. How many times have you had a preacher point out that the only thing Jesus says about tithing is “Woe unto you!”? I never heard that. You? Yeah, that’s kinda what I thought. How about the fact that in the rest of the New Testament, tithing is only discussed historically? Yeah, kinda figured that, too.
Old Testament Israel was a theocracy, with a God-appointed king. Tithing was taxation; it supported the government and provided for the general welfare. By the time of Christ, that function had been taken over by secular government. “Render unto Caesar … ”
Preachers preach that tithing is important, because it is. It pays their salary. It pays for staff. It pays debt service on construction projects. It pays the mortgage. It covers overhead.
And you can’t have a modern church without overhead, can you? You have to have a preacher and a minister of music and a building. And if you’re a good church, you have a bus service and a nice projector system and a minister of outreach and a new Family Life center. And those things don’t pay for themselves. A business would charge a usage fee. Movie theaters cover the cost of their fancy new projectors by selling tickets. Churches can’t do that. So how do you make your usage fees mandatory without charging people. You let God do your dirty work. “Sorry, God only wants you to have 90 percent of what He blesses you with so that we can afford a new projector. Not me, you understand, just the way God withholds, you know?” And that, to be blunt, is sick. And the preacher who lives better than his congregation because he tells them that God demands they let him? Wow.
Make no mistake — God likes for us to give. But the most meaningful gifts are the ones that are heartfelt. If it’s a requirement, it’s not a gift. And He wants us to care for others. He wants us to support the church. He wants us to spread His word. He wants us to minister. And those things require money. But He wants us to want to do those things. He wants us to do them out of love, not obligation. The heart is more important than the action.
And giving is a gift; like others. Some people are called to teach. Some people are called to evangelize. Some people are called to show mercy. Some people are called to give. That doesn’t mean that everyone shouldn’t give some. Even if you have no gift for teaching, at some point you’ll probably have to teach some. It just means that each gives according to their gifts. Teaching comes more easily to someone gifted with teaching, and is its own reward for that person. Same with giving. Trying to codify some rigid universal standard for giving denies the beauty of the diversity of the body. And if what He’s gifted you with, or what He’s called you to do, is to give 10 percent of what you have to Him, then that is an honor and a blessing. And if you choose on your own to make that sacrifice out of love for Him, then that is an amazing show of love indeed.
God gives us gifts for our enjoyment, not His. It blesses Him to see you appreciate and be grateful for the firstfruits of His gifts. If He were really that concerned with the 10 percent, He would keep it in the first place. He doesn’t have to give it to us. But, you know, He’s sort of God. He’s got plenty. He’s not jealous of 10 percent of your paycheck. He’s jealous of your heart.
And 10 percent of that is not nearly enough for Him.